The teenage American models who arrived in Paris, far from their parents and hometowns, said the bargain was clear: have sex with their prominent French agent and his wealthy, middle-aged friends or risk a fleeting shot at a modeling career.
Nineteen-year-old Courtney Powell was among a handful of young models who took the bold step of publicly accusing Jean-Luc Brunel of sexual misconduct — ranging from groping and other sexual advances to drugging women’s drinks and rape — in the hope that he would be stopped.
But their allegations, nationally televised on CBS’s “60 Minutes” in 1988 and echoed later in a book and court records, sparked no apparent investigation. Nor did they prevent Brunel from continuing to exploit and assault others, according to two other former models recently interviewed by The Washington Post. Brunel went on to befriend a wealthy, jet-setting American financier named Jeffrey Epstein, who allegedly abused dozens of minors; one, Virginia Roberts Giuffre, has said in court documents that Epstein pressured her to have sex with Brunel when she was a teenager.
“It completely boggles my mind how it’s possible that [Brunel] could be caught on the radar . . . and then nothing would come of it,” Powell, now 50 years old with two daughters, told The Post.
Justice has been elusive for Brunel’s alleged victims, as it has been for the women who accused Epstein of abuse only to see him serve just 13 months in jail a decade ago. The possibility that new sex trafficking charges against Epstein would mean serious punishment for the 66-year-old financier evaporated after officials determined he killed himself in his federal jail cell on Aug. 10.
Prosecutors in New York, however, have said they plan to continue examining people who might have enabled Epstein’s alleged behavior. Emboldened by the #MeToo movement, which seeks to expose powerful and abusive men, Brunel’s accusers are calling for law enforcement to investigate the 72-year-old modeling scout and whether he helped Epstein procure girls.
They say Brunel has been hiding in plain sight for decades, even after allegations that he assaulted women were aired on television in 1988, in a 1995 book by Michael Gross called “Model: The Ugly Business of Beautiful Women” and years later, in the court documents related to the Epstein case.
Through his attorney Joe Titone, Brunel didn’t answer detailed questions this past week about allegations of sexual assault and misconduct with minors. Titone said he was communicating with Brunel over phone and email but didn’t know where his client is located.
Brunel has responded to the allegations in the past. In 2015, he sued Epstein, contending that “false stories” about their relationship had sunk his modeling agency.
The same year, he said in a statement to the New York Daily News, responding to Giuffre’s allegation: “I strongly deny having participated, neither directly nor indirectly, in the actions Mr. Jeffrey Epstein is being accused of. I strongly deny having committed any illicit act or any wrongdoing in the course of my work as a scouter or model agencies manager.”
Brunel’s career dates to 1978, when he has says he founded Karin Models, a prominent Paris agency that he left more than a decade ago to start a new firm. The French online publication Mediapart recently called Brunel “an aging playboy . . . known in Paris for his love of partying, his luxury cars and his designer pants.’’
Brunel has traveled the world looking for beautiful girls, living at times in Paris, New York and Miami Beach, records show. He has said he “discovered” top models such as Christy Turlington and Milla Jovovich — claims their representatives denied to The Post.
Turlington said she met Brunel in 1983, when she was 14 years old. She said she and other models would occasionally stay in his apartment on Avenue Hoche in Paris.
“Staying there was nicer than some hotels and I considered it a perk,” Turlington said in an email. “I was always the youngest person in the room back then and no one was ever inappropriate with me.”
Turlington said she was “horrified” by the “60 Minutes” broadcast a few years later.
In Gross’s 1995 book about the fashion industry, Brunel acknowledged having sexual relations with models. “You get laid tonight with a model, is that a crime?” he asked. “I’m no saint.”
But he also said he had “never messed with the girls of the agency.”
The Epstein case has generated a tangled web of civil lawsuits that have revealed glimpses into Brunel’s past and his friendship with the American financier.
One of the only known efforts to force Brunel to answer questions about Epstein came in one of those suits in 2009, when he was subpoenaed to give testimony by a lawyer representing alleged Epstein victims.
Rather than be deposed, Brunel said he left the country “on the direct advice of Epstein,” according to the complaint he filed against Epstein. That suit was dismissed by the court because Epstein was not properly notified.
Epstein attorney Martin Weinberg did not respond to a request for comment.
Testimony in Epstein-related lawsuits alleges that Brunel’s modeling business served as a pipeline of underage girls for Epstein.
Giuffre has claimed in a sworn declaration filed in court that she had sex with Brunel multiple times at Epstein’s direction and that Epstein told her he slept with “over 1,000 Brunel girls.” Brunel’s former bookkeeper, Maritza Vasquez, said in a sworn statement filed in court that Brunel would bring girls as young as 14 to Epstein’s parties and that Epstein paid for foreign visas and housed Brunel’s models rent-free in New York City. She said she had reviewed supporting documents, but they were not submitted in court.
Court records also show Vasquez was fired from Brunel's agency in 2006 and convicted of stealing from the firm. In a deposition cited by Brunel’s lawsuit against Epstein, Vasquez said she never saw her boss act inappropriately with models or heard complaints about him.
Vasquez could not be reached for comment. A lawyer who previously represented her declined to comment.
Evidence submitted in the sprawling cases documents the two men’s frequent contact. Between 1998 and 2005, the names “Jean Luc Brunel,” “Jean Luke” or “JLB” appear 25 times in flight logs for Epstein’s private plane, headed to destinations where he owns homes, including New York, Paris, Palm Beach, Fla., and the Virgin Islands.
Handwritten phone messages recorded by Epstein’s staff in the period before the financier’s 2006 arrest show Brunel called Epstein often around the same time Palm Beach police were tipped off to Epstein’s alleged abuse of minors.
One April 1 message from Brunel read: “He has a teacher for you to teach you how to speak Russian. She is 2 x 8 years old not blonde. Lessons are free and you can have 1st today if you call.” Another undated message from Brunel said: “He just did a good one--18 years. (She spoke to me and said ‘I love Jeffrey.’)”
In 2004, Epstein and Brunel were spotted together by former Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Stacey Williams at a New York party hosted by the magazine. Williams said she steered clear of the men because they had made her feel uncomfortable in past encounters. “My blood ran cold.” she said.
The two also had a financial connection. When Brunel invested $1 million in new modeling agency in 2005, he did so with a loan from Epstein, according to the suit he later filed against the financier.
After Epstein pleaded guilty in 2008 to soliciting a minor, Brunel was among those who visited him during his time in the Palm Beach County jail, records show.
Epstein’s butler Janusz Banasiak said in a 2010 deposition that Brunel and Epstein were “friends” and that Brunel had stayed at Epstein’s home in Palm Beach three times in the seven months since Epstein had been released from jail and had begun serving house arrest, cooking for himself in Epstein’s kitchen and swimming in Epstein’s pool.
By then, the allegations against Brunel had been circulating for more than 20 years.
In a transcript of the “60 Minutes” program obtained by The Post, correspondent Diane Sawyer interviewed two models, including Powell, about the dinner parties they said Brunel pushed them to attend with his male friends. “It’s a meat market,” said Powell, who came to Paris from the tiny town of Stoneboro, Pa. “You are there for the purpose of somebody wanting to take you home to bed.”
Powell also said Brunel asked her to have sex with him. After rejecting him, she said, modeling jobs dried up.
An unidentified woman whose face was shadowed, according to the transcript, told Sawyer that Brunel routinely offered her cocaine, and that on one occasion, she believed he had slipped a hallucinogen into her drink. Another model whose face and voice were disguised said Brunel drugged and raped her.
“Jean Luc Brunel declined to give us an interview, but [modeling agency chief] Eileen Ford said Brunel denied to her the allegations against him,” Sawyer said in the broadcast. “Despite that, however, she told us that she has notified Brunel that she will not send him any new models unless this matter is all cleared up.”
Ford died in 2014.
“The ‘60 Minutes’ program was a foundational investigation into sex abuse in the fashion industry — 30 years before #MeToo,” said Craig Pyes, who worked as a producer on the episode and interviewed the women off air. “The program hit the modeling industry like a bomb . . . but the industry has a short attention span.”
Brunel praised the news outlet’s track record in Gross’s book and said his career suffered as a result of the report. Yet he continued to work in the modeling industry, as young aspiring models who had not seen the American news program continued to be sent to his Paris apartment.
They experienced a similar pattern of behavior by Brunel, two women told The Post, in which he pressured them to use drugs and have sex with him.
Three years after the CBS broadcast, 18-year-old model Thysia Huisman met Brunel at her agency in Brussels. “He said he had a great future for me in Paris and that he could make my career,” she said in a recent interview from Amsterdam.
Huisman, now 46, said she was discomfited when Brunel offered to let her stay at his apartment. She said that her modeling agency told her only “special girls” were offered such an opportunity and that Brunel would take care of her while she was far from home.
She arrived in Paris in September 1991 with no friends and one backpack of clothes. She said when she asked Brunel where she would sleep, he suggested his bed. She said she chose the floor of another model’s room.
“Every night, every day, he would make jokes. ‘We’re going to have sex for sure,’ ” she recalled.
She said Brunel’s apartment was frequently filled with older, wealthy businessmen surrounded by a crowd of young Eastern European models who she believes were under 18.
One night, less than a week after Huisman arrived, she said she accepted a drink that Brunel said he had mixed for her. She said that her vision blurred and that she remembers the rest of the night only in fragments: Brunel pressing her down on his bed, the heaviness of her arms, being unable to push him away, the sound of him ripping her blouse, Brunel pulling her legs apart.
After that, she said, she passed out. She woke up the next morning naked, her body partly covered by a kimono that didn’t belong to her. Her inner thighs were bruised, she said. Disoriented, she quickly packed her belongings and fled the apartment for the train station.
“I felt so so dirty and guilty, ashamed that this happened to me,” said Huisman, who didn’t report the incident to police. “I thought it was my own stupid fault.”
She’s grown angry after learning of the well-publicized allegations against Brunel years before her modeling agency sent her to Paris. “The whole fashion industry was more than willing to work with him, and he’s been entangled in scandals for decades,” she said. “And I feel also partly to blame. I never told my story. I was scared.”
Huisman’s boyfriend, Wouter Gras, told The Post recently that a few months after they began dating nine years ago, Huisman said she had a bad experience in Paris with a modeling agent. Gras said that about two years ago, Huisman began talking about her former agent in therapy and told Gras that Brunel had raped her.
After Epstein was arrested in July, Huisman said she called an FBI tip line to report her experience with Brunel and that she might have seen Epstein among the businessmen at Brunel’s apartment. She said she is also willing to speak to French law enforcement about Brunel.
“I hope he stops, finally,” she said. “I hope he has some kind of sentence, that he’s punished for what he did to a lot of girls.”
Around the same time Huisman arrived in Paris in 1991, 17-year-old model Zoë Brock was also there, far from her home in New Zealand. She hadn’t heard about the “60 Minutes” broadcast either and didn’t know better when her modeling agency sent her to live with Brunel. “My mother was told I would be safe there,” Brock said in an interview.
She said one day Brunel summoned her into his bedroom. “I’ve never forgotten it,” she said. “He said, ‘One of these days Zoe, we are going to have to have sex together,’ and he pushed a plate of cocaine toward me.”
She said she took the drugs but began avoiding him. Her modeling agency soon told her she wasn’t allowed to stay with Brunel anymore, which she assumed was because she wasn’t willing to go to bed with him. Her mother, Brigid Brock, confirmed her account of what happened with Brunel in an interview, saying her daughter told her what happened a few years later.
Years later, after the New York Times published its 2017 investigation into alleged sexual misconduct by Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, the ex-model was moved to action. She published an online column on Oct. 7 alleging that Weinstein was sexually aggressive with her in his hotel room in the late 1990s during the Cannes Film Festival. A representative for Weinstein denied the allegation.
Eleven days after the Weinstein column, she again posted online — this time about how Brunel had propositioned her and offered her drugs.
“I have no faith in the system at all anymore,” said Brock, now 45 years old. “There is not a day that goes by when I don’t think of the culpability of society as a whole — how the entertainment industry, the fashion industry, the modeling industry — everyone has a history of looking past things and still working with these people and inviting them for dinner.”
Allegations against Brunel were also publicized in Gross’s book, a New York Times bestseller that was republished most recently in 2011.
The book describes how little was done to curb Brunel’s behavior after the CBS report, quoting named fashion executives accusing the Frenchman of continuing to mistreat and assault models. Jérôme Bonnouvrier, an agent who died in 2009, called Brunel a “danger” and said girls “are with him because he’s the boss.”
“His problem is that he knows exactly what girls in trouble are looking for,” he added.
Six years after the book’s publication, model Michelle de Swarte became stranded in New York City after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. She was affiliated at the time with Brunel’s agency, Karin Models, and was told it had a plan to get her and some other foreign models out of the United States.
“We were told that there is someone who has a private jet who can fly us out of New York but he wants to meet us first,” recalled de Swarte, who was born in London.
That someone was Epstein. De Swarte said she didn’t know whether it was Brunel’s idea or someone else’s at the agency to send her to Epstein’s mansion on the Upper East Side.
De Swarte, who was 20 at the time, said Epstein looked past her and focused on a young, Eastern European model who spoke little English. Epstein, sitting on a chair in the middle of the room, pulled the girl de Swarte believed to be a teenager onto his lap, she said.
“He beelined for the person who looked the most skinny, small, young and vulnerable and she didn’t know how to say no,” de Swarte said.
She left shortly afterward. De Swarte said she doesn’t know whether any of the girls took Epstein up on his offer. “I would rather stay in New York with the potential threat of another terror attack than get on a plane with this guy,” de Swarte recalled.
She separately complained to her agency about “touchy feely” behavior from Brunel, who she said had a habit of rubbing her earlobes.
Representatives for the agency did not respond to requests for comment.
Brunel lived for a time in an apartment Epstein owned in New York City, according to testimony by Vasquez, who worked as a bookkeeper for Brunel from 2003 to 2006. She said Epstein was financially supporting Brunel’s new agency and its young, largely foreign models with housing and visas. Asked what Epstein got out of the arrangement, Vasquez said, “The only thing that I can think he was getting was the girls. Nothing else.”
Vasquez said she told Brunel that as a mother, she was uncomfortable when he brought girls under 18 years old to Epstein’s parties.
He responded, she said, “I’m the father.”
Lisa Rein, Julie Tate, Alice Crites and Devlin Barrett contributed to this report.